Since last Sunday, the Ciel et Blanc have been on their pre-season training camp in Hagetmau, in the South West of France. An opportunity, as co-coach Laurent Labit points out, not only to lay the foundations of the new season, but also to observe the huge growth in team spirit compared to the same period last year.
Laurent, what are the objectives of the training camp in Hagetmau?
As always, with the all the players and staff together, a camp like this enables us to prepare for the coming season. When you are living together 24 hours a day for a whole week, it's conducive to sharing things, and it allows us to bring the new players quickly up to speed. You get to know one another much more than in a normal week. If we had stayed in Paris to train, the guys go home in the evening and come back the next day. But in camp they share rooms, the share moments of relaxation, of rest, of training and video sessions. In terms of cohesion and understanding, it's a significant saving in time for the weeks to come.
Have you set particular aims for the group ?
Of course. The main objective is to create a team spirit, something which we need to keep working on. Last year, when we lost in the semi-final of the TOP 14, what gave Toulon the upper hand was their collective maturity. It was the third year in a row that their team reached the semis, but for us it was the first time. To attain the cohesion, and the solidarity needed to win games at this level, you have to have moments like this week, when the team bonds together. So that we can play games of the same quality as last year, but adding in the extra solidarity, cohesion and understanding.
What aspects of the camp have you found the most satisfying?
For a start, the set-up and the faclities à Hagetmau. Laurent (Travers) and I already knew the place, as we have been here on numerous occasions with Montauban, then Castres. In terms of infrastructure, and having everything on hand, the pitch, the weights room, and the swimming pool, it's hard to get better. So that's already a major satisfaction, because the working conditions are superb.
And what about the players, compared to last year's camp for instance...?
Also a major satisfaction! I would even say that there is a world of difference and in terms of the ambience within the team, compared to last year, it's like chalk and cheese! Our internationals are still on their own separate programme, and won't actually start the rugby content until next week but we are very satistied with the quality of work produced by the squad.
On Friday evening (6:00pm) you will finish off the camp with a pre-season friendly against Bordeaux-Bègles. How do you expect that to go?
It's going to be complicated because we have had a difficult week, physically and in rugby terms it has been very intense. What's more, as we are not going to risk playing our internationals, we will be ten men short, so we will have to take on UBB with about 24 - 26 players, including our youngsters from the Academy. We know it is going to be difficult against this Bordeaux team, and that there are bound to be some inaccuracies in our game. But it is after all the first official match of the season, and without getting caught up in the game plan, for us the most important thing is to see how the players react. Naturally we hope they will be able to put into place the things we have been working on, but the key thing for us is how they behave, and the state of mind we will show on the pitch.
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Saturday 26th August